BELLINGHAM - Getting fish on ice takes a lot of work, but it should be much easier now at Bellingham Cold Storage.
Last week the company started producing ice from its new $4.5 million ice house, which is situated near the water on the north end of its Roeder Avenue facility. Including the storage bins and with the machines operating at capacity, BCS can have 470 tons of shaved and block ice on hand each day for commercial fishing boats and BCS tenants.
That's about twice as much as the original ice house, which was built in 1946, said Doug Thomas, president of the company.
The new ice house was an important investment for the company, which had reached capacity in recent summers, so much so that it had to sometimes purchase extra ice.
"For us, this is a sincere investment to the fishing industry that will have a long-term payoff," Thomas said. "There are few places around here that can serve as a landing point for fresh fish, and this is an important part of our business."
The new ice house is completely automated, so the days of manually lugging around 300-pound blocks of ice are history.
"This is quicker, easier and faster," said Mike Clausen, who has worked at BCS for 44 years and is the maintenance and refrigerator manager. "Now we can concentrate on selling more ice and doing preventive maintenance."
While there's less back-breaking work to do, Thomas said the employees still will be kept busy with other work, particularly as the fishing season kicks into high gear. This year is the sockeye salmon run, which really gets going after the Fourth of July and lasts into August. In the fall, it'll be the chum salmon season.
A key factor for making this investment is the improvement of fishery management, Thomas said. In the 1990s, management practices were such that it was difficult to tell what kind of season commercial fishermen would have year to year. In recent years it's been consistent, with enough fish being left for future catches.
"Because of current fish management practices, we now have the confidence to make this investment, knowing that we have a sustainable industry that we can count on," Thomas said.
Stowe Talbot, chairman of BCS, agreed, adding that this new facility puts Bellingham on the map for commercial fishing.
"We're optimistic that the fishing stock has stabilized and will be a viable stock for many years to come," Talbot said.
Reach DAVE GALLAGHER at email@example.com or call 715-2269. Visit his business blog online at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/business or get updates on Twitter at twitter.com/BhamHeraldBiz.